Top Instagram Hashtags for Gaining More Followers & Boosting Engagement

As a small business owner and Instagram marketing consultant, I‘ve helped dozens of entrepreneurs grow their following and engagement on Instagram. And the #1 strategy I recommend is taking full advantage of Instagram hashtags.

Hashtags are essential for expanding your reach, connecting with your target audience, and boosting engagement on Instagram. But with over 1 billion monthly active users on the platform, the competition is intense. You need to be strategic about which hashtags you use and how you use them.

In this comprehensive guide, I‘ll share my proven expertise on choosing the optimal hashtags to help you gain more quality followers and engagement as an entrepreneur on Instagram.

Why Instagram Hashtags Are Critical for Your Business

Here are some key stats on why hashtags need to be central to your Instagram strategy:

  • Posts with at least one hashtag average 12.6% more engagement than posts without a hashtag (TrackMaven)
  • There are over 500 million posts on Instagram every day, and hashtags help users cut through the noise and discover relevant content
  • 90% of the top posts by engagement on Instagram contain at least one hashtag (Sprout Social)
  • You can follow hashtags on Instagram, meaning users who follow certain hashtags will see relevant posts even if they aren‘t following your brand
  • Niche hashtags allow you to target and connect with users who are aligned with your brand and more likely to convert to customers

As a small business owner trying to drive brand awareness and sales on Instagram, you need an effective hashtag strategy to get your content seen by the right people.

How to Find the Best Hashtags for Your Brand

With 5 million+ hashtags on Instagram, how do you identify the ones that will work best? Follow this 6-step hashtag research process:

Audit Your Niche

Start by identifying 20-50 top influencers, competitors and brands in your industry.

Analyze Their Top Posts

Use a tool like Iconosquare to analyze their last 15-20 top-performing posts and identify which hashtags drive the most engagement.

Make a Master List

Compile all the relevant niche hashtags into a master list and remove any duplicates. This creates a solid foundation of highly relevant industry hashtags.

Identify Trending Hashtags

Use sites like Trendogate or Keyhole to identify "rising star" hashtags gaining popularity in your niche. These help ride trends.

Get Suggestions from Tools

Plug your master hashtag list into tools like Follower Wonk or Hashtagify to find additional, related hashtags to expand your list.

Organize into Categories

Sort your final hashtag list into categories like "niche", "local", "branded", "trending", etc. This helps strategically target different audiences.

By following this process, you‘ll have an continuously optimized list of 50-100 highly relevant hashtags tailored specifically to your brand and target audience.

8 Pro Tips for Maximizing Your Hashtag Strategy

Once you‘ve built your hashtag master list, you need to use those hashtags effectively:

1. Include Branded Hashtags

Create 1-2 hashtags unique to your brand that followers can use to spread awareness and user-generated content.

For example, if you own a boutique called "Modern Chic", you could encourage using #ModernChicFinds and #WearingModernChic.

2. Put Hashtags at the End

Listing your hashtags at the very bottom of your caption keeps them unobtrusive while still being searchable.

3. Mix Broader & Narrower Tags

Finding the right balance between super popular hashtags (for reach) and niche tags (for targeting) is key for optimal results.

4. Take Advantage of the 30 Hashtag Limit

Leveraging the maximum allowed 30 hashtags on Instagram significantly increases discoverability. But focus on quality over quantity.

5. Use Chains of 2-3 Relevant Tags

Strategically chaining niche hashtags together in a sequence (like #socialmediatips #instagramtips #smmbusiness) can expand reach.

6. Be Consistent but Flexible

Finding your core effective hashtags and using them consistently is important, but also stay flexible to take advantage of trends.

7. Analyze Performance

Use analytics to see which hashtags are driving the most high-quality followers and engagement over time. Then double down on those.

8. Avoid Banned Hashtags

Steer clear of using misleading, inappropriate or spammy hashtags that violate Instagram‘s policies.

Make Hashtags Work for You

The data shows that hashtags are one of the most effective tactics for getting discovered on Instagram as a small business. But you need to be targeted and strategic about which ones you use.

By optimizing your hashtag research process, customizing hashtags for your niche, regularly testing performance, and applying best practices in using hashtags – you can maximize your growth and engagement on Instagram as an entrepreneur.